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How I Made Lodge 49: Jim Gavin on writing a TV cult classic
The creator of Lodge 49 talks about the short-lived yet perfectly formed show’s cult status, 'once-in-a-lifetime' cast and inspired soundtrack as every episode comes to the UK on AMC.
“You have to accept this may be the only TV thing I ever do and if that’s the case, I’m a lucky bastard.”
Jim Gavin, the creator of cult classic series Lodge 49, is chatting to us about the history of his much-loved show. Based in part on his own experiences growing up in Long Beach, California, Lodge 49 was a critical hit when it launched in 2017 but ended in 2019 after only two seasons.
Part comedy, part drama, part dreamy puzzlebox, Lodge 49 is a modern fable about lovably optimistic ex-surfer Dud (Wyatt Russell) and how he copes with life after the death of his father and the collapse of the family business.
Blending the ordinary with the extraordinary, Dud runs into a fraternal lodge who welcome him into their world of 'knights' and camaraderie; the series is quite unlike anything else you’ll watch this year.
Gavin admits that he is still shocked to this day that Lodge 49, a light-hearted and very personal comedy, made it to screen. But it’s the show’s authenticity – from its incredible sun-drenched soundtrack to Wyatt Russell’s endearing lead performance – that made the series a modern classic.
The show is finally getting shown in full in the UK on AMC (Starting with season 1 on Sunday, 31 July) and we got Gavin to give us the full story behind one of TV’s greatest hidden gems.
The beginnings of Lodge 49
I wrote it as a writing sample so I could get a job on another show. But it kept moving forward and I just kept meeting the right people along the way - Paul Giamatti and Dan Carey, who became the producers, and the guys at AMC, who really took a chance on it. It feels miraculous that it got on air at all. I’m eternally grateful for that and I’m permanently in shock that it got made.
For me, as far as actual writing. I just follow my nose and write about what I care about. Lodge 49 is very personal and many aspects are about my life, jobs I’ve had, places I’ve lived and people I’ve known. The next thing I’m writing is more genre-based but it’s still all my weird obsessions, I do tend to follow those for better or worse. I try to do what I want.
Capturing the spirit of Lodge 49
AMC were great, they gave us so much creative freedom. There is a certain goofball comedy to the show that is very much my sense of humour. We wanted to make something entertaining, but we just wanted to do it our own way.
We weren’t trying to make some experimental Brechtian thing – but at the same time we liked having our own mood and style. And it does get hard to do that over a long period. Any TV show these days that doesn’t have a murder in the first scene is considered a slow burn. Lodge 49 was a very slow burn - we never got to the murders.
The inspiration for Lodge 49
I’ve always been obsessed with secret societies and fraternal orders. There are two aspects to it. The weird and occult traditions that can get as wild and crazy as you want, the history of alchemy and all that stuff. These mysterious rabbit holes to fall down.
And the more mundane aspect is that you get a freemason who sells insurance in the daytime and he suddenly enters this place and he becomes a knight – you get this weird world colliding with normal, regular people.
I like that in an ordinary life, there is something extraordinary happening within it and a lodge and these secret fraternal orders, they're a mystery - and we all miss a bit of mystery in our lives. That’s one of the driving forces of the show. It’s nice to dig a little deeper and find that there’s something else.
Bringing the real Long Beach to life
That was very important to me. Long Beach is a big city and daily life and what it means to exist there and get by is rarely seen on TV. Getting that world right was very important to me. In some senses it’s a mundane world, but one of the goals of the show was to infuse that world with its own sense of grandeur. I hoped people would want to hang out at the donut shop with Dud or hang out with the Lodge.
It is rare to have a show where it doesn’t matter how much money someone has in their pocket or what debt they have, these are things everyone deals with but are rarely seen on TV.
Getting the perfect cast
The cast are the show and the key to everything. One thing I learned is that it all comes down to the cast. When you have cool cast members who are team players, who love being around, it’s a dream to work on. Wyatt was who we always had in mind for Dud and that worked wonderfully. We signed him up earlier on and he loved it, so it was a perfect match.
Then we searched high and low for everyone else. Brett Jennings was an amazing career character actor and we looked at a lot of people, but he was just Ernie. Sonya Cassidy, we went all the way to the UK to find a Long Beach lady in London. As an ensemble, it was just a once-in-a-lifetime group of people.
The importance of the Lodge 49 soundtrack
The music was huge. I’m a huge music geek. We got a composer Andrew Carroll and our music supervisor, a Brit, who lives in London, a music journalist, Tom Patterson. We wanted a cohesive, psych garage, beachy, sun-drenched world. Some of my favourite moments in the show are where we just let a song lift a scene into a new place.
And we got a couple of bands, who almost became our house bands. The Soundcarriers from Nottingham and Lilys, a great American psych band.
Most importantly for me personally was a band, who really impacted on me and influenced the spirit of the show; Broadcast, from Birmingham, England.
Trish Keenan, the singer from the band died about 11 years ago, it was heartbreaking. We used Broadcast songs in really important moments and that was decades of fandom coming together for me. The music was a really big part of the process.
Lodge 49’s legacy and future
I’m proud of the show. It was very personal. There were lots of parts of it that came from my own life. And more importantly the experience of making it and the people I made it with was just wonderful. In a very crowded and competitive TV landscape, we held our own. We were in all the Top 10 lists, alongside big show shows with big budgets, we snuck in there.
It was frustrating me that both seasons couldn’t be seen in the UK, so now that they can, I’m really excited.
I’m happy with how it ended. Season 2 completes some emotional things and I wouldn’t change any of that. But we always had a larger ending in mind. I wouldn’t change what we have, I’m happy with it. And if there’s some weird possible way to finish the story, I would love to do it, but I’m not counting on it. I’m just really proud of what we did make.
I would rather make a show that a smaller number of people love and is more meaningful to them than make something less personal that a lot of people watch. It’s probably a little snobbish, but a lot of music I love is bands who got passed over at the time. I’m OK living in that space.
Watch Lodge 49 on Sundays at 9pm on AMC from 31 July
AMC is exclusive to BT TV customers on channel 332/381